Therapeutic Tattoos

Posted on 15 August 2019 by LeslieM

Tattoos have exploded in popularity over the past decade and have become an artistic way for people to express themselves. What do tattoos mean? Before we address the meaning of various tattoos, let’s take a brief look at the history of tattoos.

We can go back almost 12,000 years where tools for tattooing were found in France, Portugal and Scandinavia. The oldest surviving tattoos were found on a mummy in the Otzi Valley in the Alps from the fifth to fourth millennium BC. Ancient Egypt and India used tattoos as methods of religious worship and healing. Ancient Romans, Greeks and Chinese tattooed their slaves and criminals to be able to identify them if they escaped.

The Jewish world has a longstanding aversion to tattoos. The taboo against body ink remains powerful among largely secular Jews. The objection relates to Leviticus 19.28 “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourself.” Some liberal Jews have taken a fresh look at tattoos, but many still overwhelmingly see tattoos as inconsistent with the teachings of Jewish tradition.

Most people get tattoos to tell a story, to highlight pain, triumph and obstacles they have faced in their lives. Tattoos can also be therapeutic to some. Below are a few types of therapeutic tattoos:

Mastectomy Tattoo Movement: Following Breast Cancer treatment, some women opt to get artistic tattoos to cover mastectomy scars and to reclaim their bodies. An organization P.ink (Personal ink) refers Breast Cancer survivors to tattoo artists with mastectomy tattoo experience.

Recovery from Addiction Tattoo: It takes amazing strength to address and recover from addiction. It helps to have motivational reminders to stay on track, and a tattoo can inspire and celebrate recovery. A patient of mine has “one day at a time” tattooed on the inside of her wrist. If she feels anxious, she reads her tattoo and that reminds her to slow down, breath, realize she can make it through today sober and contact her sponsor for support.

Memorializing a Loss Tattoo: Sarah, a former psychotherapy patient of mine lost her father to suicide. Sarah had a tattoo behind her left ear — a semicolon. She explained that she searched for a tattoo that would honor her father and increase awareness of mental health problems. She stumbled upon “Project Semicolon.” This organization is dedicated to preventing suicide. Sarah has taken a positive step in her healing process and told me she likes to talk to others who have experienced devastating loss in their lives and wants to promote positive ways to discuss mental health issues.

A 60-year-old female patient told me that for years she thought anyone getting a tattoo did not realize the consequences, such as not liking it after a few years, and the time and pain involved to have it removed. Then, she pointed out a hummingbird tattoo on her right shoulder. She decided to get this tattoo because it represented her daughter who had died of Brain Cancer. This tattoo brought her peace. Here was a woman who was anti-tattoos for years and, at the age of 60, decided there was a very good reason, the memory of her daughter, to get a tattoo. Yes, change is possible!

Dr. Julia Breur is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton. For more information, call 561-512-8545, e-mail info@drjuliabreur.com or visit www.drjuliabreur.com.

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